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The Inner Critic

by Sharon Good

One of the greatest deterrents to creativity is the inner voice that constantly whispers in our ear that we're not good enough, that nobody will approve of what we're doing, and that they don't really like us anyway.

This "inner critic" becomes our constant companion, not only in our work, but in everything we do.

The inner critic begins as a survival mechanism. When we're children, part of our parents' job is to teach us socially acceptable behavior. In doing so, even the best parents inevitably curb our natural instincts.

This makes us feel that there must be something innately wrong with us, and it hurts or shames us. In order to avoid future pain, we start telling ourselves what's wrong with us before others in our world get around to it.

As we grow up, we internalize all those outer voices, the criticisms and

limiters on our natural behavior. This becomes our "inner critic," whose

job is to store all the rules and then chastise us for not following them.

Ironically, our inner voice can become harsher and more persistent than the

outer ones ever were. We punish ourselves emotionally, and sometimes

physically with such things as addictions. What began as a protector

becomes a destroyer.

The inner critic will show up at different times and in different ways. One

minute, it will tell us how hopeless we are, and the next, how much better

we are than everyone else. It will appear more commonly in some areas of

our lives -- usually the ones we feel less secure about -- than others. It

will often speak up when we're feeling tired or threatened, and when things

are going well and we feel good about ourselves, it'll remind us that we'll

never be able to sustain it. When we're in the throes of creating, the

vulnerability we feel is an open door for the critic to step in and judge

us and our work.

* The first step in dealing with the inner critic is to recognize it as a

separate entity from yourself.

It is a voice within you, but it's not you. This voice has been your

constant companion since childhood, and it's likely so much a part of you,

like the air you breathe, that you hardly even notice it.

Realize that these are the combined voices of all the authority figures you

grew up with -- parents, teachers, religious leaders or just about any

adult. When you were small, not heeding these voices could result in

physical or emotional pain or humiliation.

Your inner critic may even reflect the voices of childhood friends. We all

wanted so desperately to belong, yet most of us are not strangers to being

hurt or humiliated because we were different. When I was about ten, a

"caring" friend told me that other kids thought I was conceited. It took me

many years to let go of that voice, and it certainly kept me from being and

doing my best for fear of losing friends if I allowed myself to shine.

* Next, begin to listen to what the voice says.

Make note of the repetitive messages you hear. How does your critic speak

to you? What names does it call you? Does it speak to you in a demeaning

way, calling you "stupid" or worse? How does it find fault with you? Are

there particular issues it tends to pick on?

Notice if there is a particular voice that dominates. Do you constantly

hear your mother saying that men don't like smart women, or your father

saying that art is for sissies? Sometimes, merely identifying the voice,

and understanding that you're now old enough to make your own choices, will

dissipate it.

Also, step back and look objectively at what the voice is saying. Is it

true? If not, acknowledge what is true. If it is, what action can you take?

Is there a skill you need to acquire? A discipline you need to institute?

Are you setting impossible standards for yourself that need to be more

realistic? Whose approval are you looking for? Is it worth sacrificing your

creativity to get it? Will you ever really get it anyway?

* How is your critic trying to protect you from pain?

Remember, your critic came into being to prevent you from behaving in a way

that would bring you shame or humiliation. It's not likely that you need

the same degree of policing you needed as a small child, yet the voice

keeps up the tirade. Perhaps it's time to tell the voice to leave you alone

and find it a new focus, like pointing out your strengths!

* Once you've begun to recognize the patterns, begin to change them.

As you become more conscious of what the voice is saying, you can

"reprogram" it. How would you talk to a child in this situation? If you

often tell yourself that you're stupid, find a more caring and encouraging

way to address yourself. If you do make a mistake, acknowledge it, but

support yourself in doing it better next time rather than berating yourself

-- not a great motivator for self-improvement.

If your voice continually points up your weaknesses, look instead for your

strengths. Tell the voice that while you may never live up to your sister's

artistic abilities, you have a talent all your own that's worthwhile and

valuable. That while you couldn't make it into Harvard, you have great

people skills that make a difference in many lives or you're a wiz at

fixing computers. Or you may need to admit to yourself that you have an

extraordinary gift, even thought it might make people jealous.

* Identify the underlying fear.

What's the worst thing that could happen if you didn't listen to your

critic? As a child, you might not have had the resources to handle that. As

an adult, you do. Or you can develop them. And if you really look at the

fears and test them, in many cases, the child's fears are no longer a

threat to the adult, or they no longer need to be.

* Talk to your inner critics.

Find out what they have to say about you. In most cases, when you hear how

extreme and absurd their criticisms are, it will be easier to dismiss them.

Notice how contradictory they are -- they'll find something wrong no

matter what you do! On one day, they'll criticize you for not being

talented enough. On another, they'll criticize you for looking too good and

making others jealous.

Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone have developed a technology called "Voice

Dialogue,"* in which they work with clients to interact with numerous inner

voices, one of which is the Inner Critic. You can also do this using

meditation, journaling or opposite-hand writing, in which you write your

questions with your dominant hand and respond to them using the hand you

don't usually write with.

* When doing your creative work, keep the critic in its place.

There's a time to create and a time to evaluate. When you're in the midst

of the creative process, you don't want this judging presence looking over

your shoulder, stopping the flow of creativity. Later, you want to be able

to discern what works, what doesn't, what improvements are needed. That's

when the judging voice becomes useful.

* Build your self-esteem.

Seek out and remind yourself what's good about you and what you do well.

When you do that, you become less vulnerable to outside "attacks."

Ironically, the more we give our inner critic free rein, the more outer

critics seem to show up around us.

* Become your own authority.

By listening to inner and outer critics, you give them power over you.

Whose approval are you always looking to get? What gives their opinions

more weight than yours? When you were a child, it could be devastating, a

seeming threat to your survival, to lose the approval of parents and

teachers. But you're an adult now with a much wider range of choices and

capabilities. It might hurt to lose outside approval, but you don't need it

to survive.

While you can learn technique and skills, true creativity is unique to you,

and you need to follow your own muse. That's how we achieve innovation of

expression in the arts. Caroline Myss, in her work, talks about our

"tribe." This can be our family, our colleagues, or some other peer group.

In order to be part of the group, certain behavior is expected. But in

order to individuate, to live your life by your own ideas and values, you

need to break away from the tribe, at least for a time. That can be

painful, but it can also afford you tremendous freedom.

* Keep things in perspective.

Even if you have an incredible teacher whose judgments you value, don't

allow them to diminish your self-trust. Mentoring is great, but not at the

expense of your self-esteem and creativity. Your opinion matters, too.

Remember, Freud didn't approve of the direction his student Karl Jung took.

What a loss it would have been had Jung limited himself in order to please

his teacher!

* Be more gentle with yourself.

Instead of listening to your inner critic, give yourself the love and

approval you want. True, some of what it says may be true. Do what you can

about it, then let it go. Remember how annoying it was when your mother

constantly nagged you about standing up straight or being like your cousin?

Why do that to yourself?

The inner critic emerged to help you learn social behavior and avoid pain

by curbing your natural instincts. But you need those instincts to create.

As an adult, you know when and how you need to control yourself and when

you can let loose. You have the maturity to discern that for yourself and

no longer need arbitrary rules. There are still many places where you need

to control your behavior, but your creativity can be one place where you

can safely express yourself without limits -- as long as you keep your

inner critic in check.

There's one more thing you need to know. The voice of the inner critic is

not going to go away. Not completely. And you don't want to force it to go

away -- as they say, what you resist persists. But the good news is, you

can teach it to speak to you in a more positive, constructive way. Listen

to it if you choose, but make your own judgments as the adult you are.


A special thanks to Roberta W. of New Hampshire for inspiring this article.

*For more information on Voice Dialogue, visit    http://www.delos-inc.org.


Creative Tip

When you want to bypass your inner critic, try writing or drawing with

crayons on big sheets of construction paper to tap into the innocence of

the child within you.


Wise Words

"Be yourself and think for yourself; and while your conclusions may not be infallible, they will be nearer right than the conclusions forced upon you."  -- Elbert Hubbard

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"Self-worth cannot be verified by others. You are worthy because YOU say it is so. If you depend on others for your value, it is 'other-worth'."   -- Dr. Wayne Dyer

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"Many of us grow up with the idea that mistakes are bad, linking our self-esteem with continued success. We become afraid of making mistakes. So in order to achieve success, we tend to steer clear of areas that may lie outside the apparent realm of our natural talent. 

In this perverse equation, the secret of success becomes avoiding failure, leaving much of our potential untapped. In order to reach our full potential to learn, we must accept and then transform anxiety and fear, relentlessly seeking accurate information on our performance. What used to be perceived as criticism now becomes a gift for constructive growth." 

-- Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan, "Lessons from the Art of Juggling; How to
Achieve Your Full Potential in Business, Learning and Life"  

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Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset - Hal Stone, Sidra Stone

Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within - Byron Brown 

Be Full of Yourself: The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration - Patricia Lynn Reilly 

When Words Hurt: How to Keep Criticism from Undermining Your Self-Esteem - Mary Lynne Heldmann

The Power of Your Other Hand: A Course in Channeling the Inner Wisdom of the Right Brain - Lucia Capacchione 

How to Be an Adult: A Handbook on Psychological and Spiritual Integration - David Richo


  from:   L I V I N G   T H E  C R E A T I V E  L I F E 
For Creative People and Those Who Want To Live Their Lives Creatively
November 2000 Issue 30 

Please feel free to forward a copy of this newsletter to your friends.

To subscribe, go to "http://www.topica.com/lists/creativelife" or send a blank

e-mail to "[email protected]". 

Sharon Good is a Life Coach, Publisher, Author and Editor. 
She is co-owner  of Excalibur Publishing Inc. 

Her book:  Managing With A Heart: 205 Ways To Make Your Employees Feel Appreciated


Sharon Good

Personal, Career, Spiritual and Creativity Coach

Certified Life Purpose Process(C) Consultant



(c) 2000 Sharon Good. All rights in all media reserved.

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